I am very excited to announce a brand new photographic workshop to the icons of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria Australia. Perhaps best known for its mighty sea stacks at the iconic 12-Apostles, the Great Ocean Road is one of the worlds leading tourist attractions and is packed with fantastic photographic opportunities. Perhaps nowhere else in the world is there coastline as unique and spectacular as that found along this stretch of Victorian coastline. Location highlights for this tour include Gibson’s Steps, the Twelve Apostles, London Bridge, Lochard Gorge, and Hopetoun Falls. We will also visit quite a few lesser known locations including a Californian Red Wood forest plantation, the shipwreck coast and Cape Otway lighthouse. If you are interested in improving your photography along the spectacular Great Ocean Road then now is the time to register. This expedition is strictly limited to a maximum of ten participants, plus leaders and places are reserved on a first come, first served basis. A copy of the information, registration and booking form can be downloaded HERE. This workshop is CPD accredited and points are accrued for AIPP members attending this workshop.
The LEE 10 Stop Neutral Density Filter, which is affectionately known as ‘The Big Stopper’, has been a staple part of my filter and photographic kit since it was released by LEE back in 2010. I was fortunate to receive one of the very first production units and have subsequently found ten stops of neutral density extremely useful in the creation of dramatic landscape photographs. The ability to slow shutter speeds down to minutes instead of seconds can really add a lot of drama to fast moving clouds and flowing water. It’s addition to a photograph can often be the difference between the recording of something otherwise banal and the creation of something truly extraordinary.There are a number of different options from which to choose for photographers looking to add ten stops of Neutral Density filtration to their filter kit. As well as the LEE ‘Big Stopper’, there are options available from B+W, Sing Ray, Hoya and Hi-Tech (and there may well be more I am not aware of). Each of these is designed to achieve the same thing – provide ten stops of ‘neutral’ density (emphasis on ‘neutral’). It turns out however, that at least one of these filters (sample as tested) is anything but ‘neutral’.*
One of the participants on my upcoming expedition to Iceland in a few weeks time recently contacted me and asked if I would mind doing some testing with them of 10 Stop ND filters before we leave. They had been experiencing a severe (and virtually uncorrectable) colour caste with their brand new Hi-Tech Pro and were concerned that the filter may be faulty. Never one to shy away from an invitation to play with camera gear I quickly agreed and we set up a time to test the LEE Big Stopper against the Hi-Tech 10 Stop ND filter in a head to head comparison. We also had a B+W 10 Stop screw in filter for the Leica M9 and took the opportunity to also compare it. For our subject we had to hand a factory car park – crude, but nevertheless convenient. The day was overcast so no shenanigans were required to obtain acceptable exposures.Control – No Filter White Balance as shot: 5350 +4LEE Big Stopper White Balance as shot: 6450 -4HiTech 10 Stop PRO Filter White Balance as shot: 7800 +80
In order to make the comparison fair we used the same camera and lens (my Canon 1DS MK3 21.1 mega pixel camera with a Zeiss 21mm lens on my Gitzo GT3530 LSV tripod with a RRSBH55 ball head) to test both filters. Although its somewhat irrelevant the photographs were taken with the mirror locked up with 2 second self timer at F5.6. We then proceeded to take three photographs. The first is our control without any filter. The second is with the LEE Big Stopper in place and the third is with the Hi-Tech 10 Stop filter. The results are inarguable and consistently repeatable regardless of the exposure time or aperture. The LEE Big Stopper provides outstanding performance in terms of neutrality as can be seen in a direct comparison with the ‘control’ image. The Hi-Tech on the other hand is nothing short of a complete disaster. It is in fact more ‘blue’ than an equivalent exposure with the LEE Sky Blue Graduated filter and its performance is simply unacceptable. Even on the LCD screen on the back of the camera I could immediately see that there was a major problem with this filter.
In order to ensure that we were not actually seeing things or that something went wrong during our test we repeated the test with both a Leica M9 and Nikon D800E (each with an equivalent lens) with the same results. In both cases we used the same camera and lens for comparison and only ever varied the filter. I suspect that the particular sample we tested may have come from a bad batch and that there may well be others out there with defective copies. Hi-Tech have subsequently offered to replace the filter (which was actually brand new and purchased less than a month ago).
As a side note, the LEE filter is glass (sometimes referred to as Black Glass or BG) and the Hi-Tech is resin and the procedure for adding neutral density to these surfaces is very different. Resin filters are dipped in a dye bath where as glass filters (according to my understanding) use a glazing process. In the case of the sample Hi-Tech we tested I suspect that something has gone wrong during the dye process giving the filter a blue caste. It is worth noting that LEE’s Graduated Neutral Density filters are also resin (as are Hi-Techs) and effectively exhibit no colour caste.
I also took this opportunity to test the new LEE 3 Stop Pro Glass Neutral Density filter I purchased last week and its performance proved excellent. It is well worth taking the time to test any new piece of photographic equipment before an expedition. Time invested before hand can save many hours of work and frustration down the line. In this case it has saved this participant what would have been many hours of possibly uncorrectable post production work.
* Footnote: In my experience all ten stop filters have some degree of colour caste. The idea however is to be as close to neutral as possible.
I admit to being a complete shopaholic when it comes to photographic accessories. I just keep on buying different brands and models of ‘things’ until I finally settle on a product I am completely satisfied with. Online reviews are useful and aid me in making a purchase decision, but it is really my own use and experience in the field that ultimately determines my level of satisfaction with a product.
Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I get frustrated when a product comes up short of my expectations and convince myself that I can do better. This inevitably leads me to my next purchase. Camera bags and cold weather gloves for photography are two accessories that I have continually purchased in the quest for ultimate satisfaction. I finally reached the end of the camera bag road shopping spree when I purchased the Gura Gear Kiboko after my 2010 Iceland expedition. I had finally found the perfect camera bag for my needs. Gura Gear followed this in 2011 with the Chobe which solved my laptop and accessory bag dilemmas in one go. It is quite literally the perfect bag combination and I no longer feel the need to even visit the camera bag section of a photography store.
I feel I am also close to the end of my journey for cold weather photography gloves with the Helly Hanson sailing gloves I discovered late last year. I shot extensively in Antarctica with these gloves and found they provided a high degree of tactile feel for operating camera equipment while supplying sufficient warmth, making them (almost) ideal for my sort of photography. If someone would manufacture this glove in a waterproof (or even water-resistant) version I would be at the end of my search.
Outdoor clothing is part of my photographic accessories since I do the majority of my landscape and nature photography in remote locations and often in inclement weather. I have a cupboard full of inner and outer layer jackets which have been accumulated over a number of years from a wide range of manufacturers. I used to find it very difficult to walk into an outdoor clothing store and not walk out with a new jacket of some description. I believe I can lay the blame for this vice squarely at my father’s feet since I recall in my youth his tendency to purchase jackets on a more than regular basis. I have strong recollections of his cupboard being full of beautiful outdoor jackets and I guess it more than rubbed off on me. However, I think I finally cured myself of the ‘jacket addiction’ when I discovered the 66 North Eldgja mid layer jacket and their Gylmur eVent outer waterproof jacket and pants. This combination works for me – it’s extremely light-weight, breathable and waterproof. I have now worn this clothing from Iceland to Antarctica, Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand across a wide range of weather conditions and it has met my needs across all elements. I no longer feel the need to purchase anything else. (Although I did just order another Eldgja jacket because I like to have one to wear when the other is in the wash, so perhaps the addiction is not quite at an end yet!)
This brings me to another product that has multiplied in my closet: Photography vests. My first photography vest was a Domke and it served me very well for many years before I finally caught it on one-too- many rural barbwire fences and it met a grizzly, though probably not untimely end. At the time I did not really consider any other options and simply purchased another one. It took me quite a long time to realize that I was never truly happy with the Domke. For starters, it’s made from cotton, which means when it gets wet (and it isn’t waterproof) it gets heavy (and it takes a long time to dry). Secondly, large lenses placed in the front pockets tend to dangle low and bang around the knees the moment I crouch down. And lastly, the Domke really isn’t very practical for travelling on and off airplanes as it draws too much attention to itself – it doesn’t actually scream ‘photographer – I’m carrying an overweight camera bag!’, but it certainly speaks in a loud voice and in today’s age of airport clamp-downs it is less than ideal.
In the search for a replacement for my Domke, last year I purchased an Xtrahand photo vest (somewhat in frustration) as I could not find anything else on the market that I thought would be suitable for field work. To be clear, I never had any intention of using this vest for anything but remote wilderness work. It is just too ‘tactical’ for any public appearance and it most definitely screams at the top of its lungs: ‘I’m a photographer with huge amounts of heavy equipment and I don’t mind looking like Rambo!‘ The Xtrahand vest is the ideal solution for the photographer walking into the wilderness who does not wish to carry a camera bag. It holds ridiculous amounts of photography equipment (and I do mean ridiculous) and manages to spread the load palatably on arduous hikes. It meets its design criteria perfectly. What I did not know at the time was that I prefer to carry my Kiboko camera bag rather than wear the vest. It’s just a personal preference based on my habit of dropping my backpack on the spur of the moment. Whilst the vest is easily removed, it was somewhat tiresome to put it back on and difficult to extract gear from when it was on the ground. I also prefer the layout of the Kiboko for my equipment.
Thus, the photo vest saga turned out to be one of those examples where I did not realize my needs until I had tried something different. After some months with the Xtrahand vest I became aware that it simply wasn’t for me and it has gathered dust alongside a multitude of camera bags and my Domke vest since. I am going to be clearing house over the coming weeks and many of these items will find their way to eBay where I hope they will meet someone else’s needs.
With my trip to Paris, Venice and Iceland now only a couple of weeks away, I visited my local photography store a few days ago to grab a coupe of last minute items, including yet another LEE Neutral Density filter (more on filters in another blog post, but I clearly also have some sort of addiction to purchasing filters) and other various small, but necessary accessories. As I am prone to do, I wandered the store (dangerous decision for a shopaholic like me) whilst the salesperson checked the items and totaled the bill. Wandering up and down the aisles, my eyes were drawn to a vest made by Italian tripod company Manfrotto that I had read about over a year ago – The Pro Photo Vest. At the time, I remember reading that it had been designed specifically by photographers in conjunction with an Italian design company in Milan – it was stylish, understated (in photography vest terms) yet very practical looking – and I was told at the time that they were probably a good six months away from production and likely longer than that before they reached Australia. I subsequently put them out of my mind and had completely forgotten about them.
Fifteen minutes later, after trying one on and getting my head around the typical Manfrotto price tag, I purchased one. What got me over the line was exactly what I recalled about the vest when I read about it more than a year ago – stylish, understated, and practical (incidentally those are three characteristics that my Gura Gear camera bags and 66 North clothing all have in common). Much like my beloved 66 North Eldgja jacket, it ‘just felt right’ the moment I slipped it on. I won’t wax lyrical about it here as clothing is a very personal item and really needs to be tried on to appreciate. Suffice to say, at this point I am quite excited with this new vest and very keen to test it out on my coming trip. There was never a question of the Xtrahand vest travelling to Paris, Italy and Iceland with me since the Gendarmes would be very quick to swoop on anyone sporting such a military style vest. I was also loathing the thought of taking the venerable Domke with me (yet again) and the thought of it getting wet in Iceland was giving me the shivers. Now with the Manfrotto vest, I feel I have this problem licked and I am keen to see if this new accessory meets my expectations and needs. Given that it ticks my three boxes of stylish, understated, and practical, I have high hopes that it will.
Or, perhaps this will turn into yet another step in a jacket and vest addiction that will never go away!
Camera manufacturers are working hard these days through the myriad of social networking websites to raise their brand awareness and promote their products to both professional photographers and consumers. In an interesting twist on social media FujiFilm Cameras Australia is offering photographers an opportunity to hijack their Facebook page for a week. Each month Fujifilm will choose a different theme and your challenge (should you choose to accept it), is to photograph something that relates to the nominated theme and upload your photographs to the Fujifilm Facebook page. If your photograph is selected, you get to Hijack Fujifilm Camera Australia’s Facebook page for a week.
This months theme is ‘Australian Sunsets’ and with my new ‘Great Ocean Road workshop’ about to be announced I could not resist the opportunity to upload a recent photograph of the spectacular London Bridge sea stack near Port Campbell on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Should I be successful in hijacking their Facebook page with my photograph I intend to hand the page over to a suitable charity to help promote their cause for a week. If anyone has any suggestions for a suitable charity please let me know.By way of full disclosure: An Australian digital media agency representing Fujifilm Australia approached me directly and requested my assistance in the promotion of their Facebook hijacker activity. At their suggestion I was provided with a point and shoot Fujifilm camera to submit photographs to their Facebook page. I agreed to help with the intention of handing the page over to a charity and I am donating the camera to my local pre-school to use for their class projects.
One of my favorite lenses is the Canon 17mm F4L Tilt and Shift, an optically superb lens and one of the sharpest in the Canon wide angle range (along with the 24mm Tilt and Shift). With stellar optical performance and perfect tilt and shift movements, it is the ideal tool for wide-angle landscape photography.
Except that there has been a problem: a big problem.
Because of its bulbous front element, it is more or less impossible to use filters with this lens. I use neutral density graduated filters extensively and frequently find I cannot use the 17mm F4L TSE effectively because of the inability to use a filter to tame the dynamic range of the scene. This has sometimes left me frustrated with this lens for landscape work.
LEE designed and developed a solution for a similar issue with the Nikon 14-24mm wide angle zoom lens (which also has a bulbous front element) and that solution has been widely available for some time now. Unfortunately, no such solution has been forthcoming for the Canon 17mm F4L TSE lens, leaving many of us who rely on filters left out in the cold.
I know many photographers who have abandoned their filter kits in favor of multiple exposure HDR (High Dynamic Range) composites and for those photographers there is no longer a requirement for an effective bracket for using Graduated filters. However, I dislike HDR photography and prefer to capture my images in a single exposure without the need for digital blending during postproduction in Photoshop.
Consequently, I have often had to reject the 17mm TSE lens because of the scene’s dynamic range and the inability to use filters, which has more or less relegated that lens to internal architectural photography or occasions such as Antarctica (where I shot with the 17mm Lens extensively). In Antarctica, dynamic range was simply not an issue and I was able to capture the scene without use of a graduated filter (thank goodness for overcast conditions!). I shot extensively with this lens both from the deck of the Ocean Nova and from Zodiacs and I really came to appreciate the benefits of the lens when shooting handheld from ships. What was particularly useful was the ability to shift the lens down to get closer to water level when shooting from the deck of a tall ship.
With my trips to Paris, Italy and Iceland looming, I have been agonizing over whether to pack the 17mm F4L TSE lens in my kit, as its weight is not inconsiderable. The thought of carrying this lens around Europe and not being able to use it effectively for a significant amount of my landscape photography work gave me serious cause to consider its usefulness. That was until I stumbled upon a possible solution to my problem.
It turns out an enterprising photographer from Germany has cleverly solved the ‘filter problem’ using regularly available off the shelf parts from both Canon and LEE. I subsequently discovered (thanks to a user on the Luminous Landscape forum) that Fred Miranda had also constructed one of these adapters and had posted in his forum about his own experiences. After some further reading and research, I acquired the necessary parts and began constructing my own custom adapter that would enable me to use filters with the 17mm F4L TSE lens. This custom adapter bracket allows for the standard LEE foundation kit to be used with this lens. And, unlike the LEE solution for the Nikon 14-24mm lens, you do not need to purchase a new set of larger filters.
I cannot take the credit for this ingenious solution, but I can report that construction is relatively straight forward and that the finished product looks for all intents and purposes like it was manufactured by Canon or LEE. I followed the clear instructions laid out on the German website and found them straight forward and easy to follow and as such have not re-documented the construction process.
There are limits to both the tilt and shift mechanism, due to vignetting with the custom adapter and LEE kit in place, but this does not pose a significant issue for me as I am usually only tilting the lens by a very small margin and rarely use the extreme shift functionality. In any case, the custom holder can be further modified to improve both tilt and shift by removal of the inside of the LEE adapter ring with a Dremel as documented in the Fred Miranda link.